For many, Joe Biden’s election to the office of the American Presidency signaled hope for the improvement of US-Africa relations as the President vowed that “America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.”
Since taking office, President Biden has indicated big plans for his foreign policy agenda, including US relations with Africa, asserting that diplomacy under his administration is rooted in “defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”
This promise has left many looking at the continent of Africa, which has been subject to a perfect storm of detrimental factors resulting in immense poverty, food insecurity, human rights abuses, and authoritarian regimes.
World Vision reports that 234 million people in sub-Sahara Africa were chronically undernourished in 2019, a statistic that has since worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic, prolonged conflicts, human rights abuses, and climate factors.
Many of President Biden’s supporters believe that his presidency has the potential to promote the United States as a global force for good, especially after the previous administration’s approach toward US-Africa relations was widely criticized, with President Trump infamously referring to some African nations as “shithole countries.”
Having been in office for five months now, humanitarian issues are as severe as ever in many parts of Africa and President Biden’s actions will determine whether his presidency will usher in a new era of US-Africa relations or if other issues will take priority and place Africa on the backburner.
With the first few months of his presidency, President Biden has given both Americans and Africans reason to be hopeful about the prioritization of African issues and relations in diplomatic matters.
Notably, he appointed former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. representative to the United Nations. President Biden also later appointed a special envoy for the Horn of Africa who travelled to the region in May to meet with African leaders including Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
“The challenges Africa faces are great. But Africa’s promise is far greater. And we are committed to working together, as partners, to propel that promise forward,” said Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield in May.
The Biden Administration has been consistently vocal about the importance of a cooperative relationship with the continent of Africa, also being outspoken in condemning human rights abuses in Ethiopia. As the humanitarian crisis in Tigray continues to drag on without resolution, the administration’s commitment to defending human rights will be put to the test.
While prolonged conflict with extremist groups is a longstanding and devastating issue in the Sahel, authoritarianism and human rights violations are a concern throughout the entire continent of Africa. Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic has combined with pre-existing issues to further ravage Africa’s economic stability, while just over 1 percent of its population is fully vaccinated.
As the coronavirus pandemic has seen drastic improvement in the United States, the Biden Administration has started to share the United States’ vaccine supply with the world, announcing the donation of half a billion doses to 92 lower income countries and members of the African Union.
Of the first 80 million doses that the United Staes is sharing with the world, the Biden Administration allocated 15 million for African nations. While it is a step in the right direction toward combatting global vaccine inequality, this makes only a small dent for Africa’s population of over 1.2 billion people.
While U.S. foreign policy discussions perpetually center around China and Russia, the continent of Africa requires cooperation from the international community and is at a monumental standoff between embracing democratic values and resorting to authoritarianism.
From the long-standing and devastating clash between armed groups and security forces in the Sahel to the quickly deteriorating humanitarian situation and heinous atrocities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the crucial need for defending human rights across Africa is evident.
As the people of Africa face hunger, economic instability, humanitarian crises, and authoritarian regimes, the Biden administration has the ability to use diplomacy as a tool to foster a cooperative relationship with Africa based on mutual respect and the importance of human rights.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s 2020 murder and the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, President Biden has been outspoken about the importance of policies that promote racial justice and improving the lives of Black Americans domestically. Referring to Floyd’s murder as a reflection of “the systemic racism that is a stain on our nation’s soul”, racial inequity has been an emphasis in Biden’s administrative platform.
Addressing the United States’ own shortcomings and inequities with racial justice, President Biden also has the opportunity to build on this movement and promote the United States as a global force for equality, human rights, and democratic values abroad.
While the Biden administration has taken several steps to advance African interests, there is a great deal more that must be done in the coming years to truly turn over a new leaf in US-Africa relations. Responsibility falls on the people to ensure that President Biden’s promises to defend human rights and establish a cooperative relationship with Africa are not merely rhetorical or empty promises but are substantiated by meaningful action.